Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Green Monday

"As Myles Horton, the great community organizer at Highlander Center said, it's a "long haul."
Robert Giloth, Nonprofit Leadership.

Nursing a cold yesterday, I indulged in the guilty pleasure of watching snippets of the Today Show. To my surprise, the perky team was kicking off Green Week, replete with windmills, computer recycling, assorted green products, and, I admit it, Alicia Keys.

Maybe it's just because I'm looking, but it feels like the green economy is becoming common sense. Everybody wants it. Historian John De"Emilio writes of the evolutionary phases of social movements as either "creeping" or "leaping." I want to believe that we're in a green "leaping" moment.

I've participated in 4-5 phases of environmental consciousness and action, including a Boy Scout "leave your camp site cleaner than you found it" ethic to a hippie hug the earth sensibility. In the 1970s, I built solar greenhouses with the Center for Neighborhood Technology, and in the 1980s I helped support and launch several recycling experiments in Chicago and Baltimore. The 1990s brought advocacy on brownfields and the rub of the new approach of "sustainability." Since the 1970s, my environmental work was always pursued in the context of community development for low and moderate income income communities. It had its moments, but usually fell short, as energy prices fell or bureaucracies took over. More broadly, the enviromental justice movement succeeded in demonstrating the racial and class inequities of pollution.

So, now I'm asking myself, Will today's green economy yield benefits for low and moderate income communities? Van Jones, of Green for All, answers that if it doesn't we may be in for eco-apartheid, in which the "haves" enjoy a green lifestyle and the "have nots" don't. The green economy could address two pressing challenges for families: good jobs and lower household costs for energy. This, for me, is where the "leap." comes in. I have no doubt that energy prices and concerns about climate change will drive us to become ever greener -- but to translate this movement into "social equity" will involve innovative and dogged advocacy, policy, financing, institution building, and implementation work. It's still a "long haul."

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